Dear Friends, I realize news travels fast and that fast news travels even faster and not necessarily at human speeds. Thank you to those who have reached out after hearing about the flooding in New Orleans after a heavy morning thunderstorm that dropped close to 10″ of water very quickly, here’s what we had on Bayou Road at 8:30am when I sloshed next door to check on our neighbors at the Community Book Center:
Luckily the water did not make it into the Book Center. Mama Vera and Mama Jen and Baba Dave stayed home. It wasn’t safe to drive. The streets were flooded. Again. We watched as the water rose across the street and ask our neighbors if they needed help getting items off the floor. It was still raining. Hard.
And a bit later just BEFORE the tornado warning (with a water spout visible over the water at UNO- their university alert system warning students to take immediate shelter):
And then a bit later AFTER the tornado warning (I think that’s the step UP from tornado watch, but we don’t get tornadoes much in Cali):
There was a report in the evening news of ONE home on Bayou St. John hit by something, bayou water spout or land-ish tornado. It was an artist, his wife and their dog who were all safe but their art collection was destroyed as the roof was ripped off the home they had built after Katrina. That flooding.
That’s when I thought about a friend who lives next door to Chief David Montana. Her side of the street always floods and she’s on the first floor. I texted. She was fine she said and when I asked about Chief David she said his entire floor got flooded. Again. It’s sadly happened before. Sr. Bonnie called and offered to bring over our shop vacuum to help clean up. It’s a vacuum in our garage the students sometimes use to clean out the rental vans after their week with us, working. It’s also a wet vac. Handy, I thought to help clean up, maybe jimmy the drain spout with a water hose and make it a pump. Genius, I thought. So we loaded up our cars and drove the few blocks to Chief David’s house. Wow. We had to park our cars a block away because the street was too flooded to pass. Sr. Bonnie and I sloshed our way lugging our cleaning/pumping materials a block up to Chief David who must have had 4″ of water in his apartment. His neighbors had all scrambled to help each other lift items up to try and keep them wet- art pieces. It’s in the Bell Artspace building on Ursuline Street, once an Ursuline convent and school, now a cool artist building as our visitors and mission partners know so well.
So armed with a shop vac and an open hand, a Mardi Gras Big Chief, a Nun and a Mexican Immigrant got to work and helped our neighbors clean up.
We tried to get the media to help us out and see how crazy this was. It was a brand new building. With artists and senior citizens. Who were cleaning up on their own. Again. No one in building management came in and no one was responding. We thought maybe the media can help make sure they get this right. But it seemed like the news reporters were more focused reporting on roads, on the Sewerage and Water Board and on the pumps (which and how many were or weren’t working etc.) and the streets — which were flooded. Again. And people got flooded. Again. And lost belongings, and time and many relived unhappy memories of other floods. Again. Our visitors hear from our Mission partner, the Rev. Dr. Denise Graves about trauma, and the affect trauma has on an already vulnerable and traumatized community. She also shares about the resiliency of community and of tight knit neighbors and neighborhoods. So after a quick MacHardy’s chicken run and break thanks to Sr. Bonnie
We got back to work. Each time the shop vac filled we dumped out about 12 gallons of water. It took about a minute for the vacuum to fill. We emptied many, many, many shop vac buckets out Chief David’s window. The same window he describes to our students that used to be the window of his elementary school classroom when he was a little boy. He now lives in what was once his old math classroom from which he’d sometimes sneak out. Now he teaches kids about staying in school and learning more about their own cultures. That’s our friend, Big Chief David Montana. We filled and emptied a shop vac precariously perched on that old math window sill for about 3 hours until we got it done.
Tried to call the news to be in our photo op, but no word. So we moved on to help the neighbors:
This last gentleman is an amazing artist from Haiti who thankfully had all of his art pieces off the floor. Zoom in to see his work:
Another elderly gentleman with mobility challenges needed his home shop vacuumed. We managed to toss his saturated area rug out the window. Darn, I just remembered he asked me to make sure I helped close it before I left. I’m sure a neighbor helped him out. That’s what neighbors do.
There’s more to come and we should soon know more about Barry. We’ll post an update. Peace and apologies to our last group, our Summer Network Service project, Healthy Waters. We just can’t take a chance and want to ensure you all are safe, so please keep us and our neighbors in your thoughts and prayers. Stay tuned and we have so appreciated your support for our work here in New Orleans. We hope to have a viewing party for our August 5th Closing Party thanking all of our mission partners and neighbors for their amazing support. We’d love to have you tune in and help us say good-bye to Duchesne House for Volunteers on Bayou Road.